This was a little project I’ve been hatching for a while. It combines a bit of research into Victorian treats, a bit of illustration and drawing and some recipe reverse-engineering. It also marries an homage to Alice in Wonderland in its 150th birthday year (as I love the story and, in particular, John Tenniel’s original illustrations) to a ‘tea time treats’ challenge hosted by the Lavender & Lovage and HedgeComber blogs.
So, quite a list and suitably I’ve been working on it for some while (way before I stumbled on the Tea Time Treats challenge). One of the most tricky things for me on this project is that I don’t do ickle or dainty. I do try and make things look nice, but elaborate bakes are too time consuming to be an option for me as a working mum. My baking hobby has to get squeezed in between my normal day job and the rest of the chores. Plus, when I get time to bake patisserie is my go-to choice, not decoration. So, all in all, out of my comfort zone somewhat.
This little project seemed to fit nicely with the June Tea Time Treats challenge run by the Lavender & Lovage and The Hedgecombers blogs (Karen Burns Booth and Jane Sarchet respectively) which calls for small cakes. I’ve not participated before.
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said
Because there are quite a few instructions just for the fondant fancies, I have not included either the recipe for the lemon and cucumber G&T in this post, else it would be a really long read:
Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865, just four years after Mrs Beeton’s The Book of Household Management, so this should have proved a rich contemporary reference source for an appropriate recipe. I had already decided that I’d like a lemon sponge and read through Mme Beeton’s book and tried her recipe for lemon cake. Frankly, it was awful – doughy and oddly flavoured (the amount of orange flower water was a bit overkill). Many of her recipes have stood the test of time, but this one got fed to the blackbirds.
So, I went back to a more typical sponge ratio and concentrated on looking at construction and flavours from the contemporary period. I picked out an apricot jam filling and a marzipan covering, held in place by a layer of buttercream. I researched some contemporary food illustrations and settled on striped piping. To link to the Alice theme, I modelled some mini roses (white and then half painted in red, to mimic the book), a top hat or two and a Cheshire Cat to top off the cakes along with the pink pralines.
The little cakes would definitely be the ‘eat me’ so I decided to have a ‘drink me’ item too and matched a G&T to the lemon flavour of the sponge with limoncello and lemon verbena. I also added a slice of cucumber, to evoke cucumber sandwiches in a British tea party – it was really lovely. The recipe is here.
To link to Alice and give me an excuse to do a bit of drawing I drew up some eat me and drink me food tags. I was enjoying myself so much I ended up doing a few more…
- 20cm x 20cm cake tin, greased and lined
- Palette knives: a small cranked handle one and a ‘normal’ large one
- Rolling pin
- Sharp knife
- Piping bag with fine plain nozzle
- Two circular tall biscuit cutters one about 5cm in diameter, the other about 6cm (just ensure that one cutter is quite a bit bigger than the other, as it will be used to cut the marzipan for the top of the fondants)
Ingredients for the sponge
- Caster sugar – 175g
- Unsalted butter, softened – 175g
- Plain flour – 175g
- Eggs, medium – 3
- Lemon – the zest and juice of 1 large lemon
- Baking powder – 1 teaspoon
- Bicarbonate of soda – 1/2 teaspoon
Ingredients for the buttercream
- Unsalted butter, softened – 200g
- Icing sugar – 200g
- Lemon juice – 1 teaspoon
- 2 x 200g packs of coloured marzipan
- Royal icing (make up from icing sugar and a little added water and egg white and some food colouring) or buy in
- Apricot jam – you’ll need about half of a typical sized jar
- Decorations for the top of the fondant fancies – you don’t have to make your own as I did – or you can leave plain
Method – sponge
- Turn the oven on to 150C fan / 160C conventional
- Cream the sugar and butter together, then combine all the other ingredients
- Smooth into the prepared cake tin
- Bake at the bottom of the oven for about 40 minutes – test with a skewer to see if it’s done; the skewer should come out clean
- Leave to cool in the tin and then remove onto a cutting board
- Using the smaller biscuit cutter, press out 16 rounds from the cake
- Cut each of the sponge rounds in half with a bread knife
- Spread the apricot jam onto the bottom half of each of the mini sponges and then sandwich the two back together
- Pop all 16 of the mini cakes in the freezer for an hour, as this will make the next steps much easier
Method – buttercream
- Prepare the buttercream while the cakes are in the freezer
- Gently stir the icing sugar into the softened butter to incorporate it without creating a cloud of icing dust
- Add the lemon juice and adjust the consistency with a little water or more icing sugar as you see fit
- Once incorporated roughly, you can then whisk it for about 3 minutes (the longer you whisk the smoother and fluffier the buttercream)
- Take the cakes out of the freezer and paste the buttercream onto the sides and the top, making a small dome on the top of the cake, to round it off
- Smooth it a little, but don’t worry too much – it is getting covered in marzipan
- Leave the cakes while you prepare the marzipan and the royal icing
- Method – placing the marzipan
- Each of the marzipan packs will cover eight of the cakes pretty much exactly
- Roll out one of the marzipan packs very thinly. It needs to be thin for two reasons – you don’t want an overwhelming taste of marzipan drowning out the lemon of the sponge and it also ensures you have enough to cover all the cakes
- Measure the height of the cakes with a strip of paper – and cut a long strip out of the marzipan with its width matching this height. This strips will wrap around the sides of a cake.
- Make sure the strip is a little longer than the diameter of the cake (if you want to really check, use a piece of string to measure the cake diameter and then lie it down along the marzipan).
- Cut a round out of the marzipan using the larger cutter
- Trim the end of the strip of marzipan to have a straight edge
- Put this straightened end on to one of the cakes and press the marzipan strip all around, wrapping the sides of the cake
- Overlap the rough end over the original straight end and take a sharp knife and trim the excess so that it fits exactly
- Smooth the edges of the marzipan strip together a little with the back of a spoon or the edge of a knife
- Place the round you cut out on top, and again smooth the edges down to try to hide them a little
- Repeat for all the cakes, including swapping to the second marzipan pack, so that you eventually have 16 fondant fancies, with eight in each colour
Method – piping
- Make up your royal icing and add some food colouring. As I had both pink and blue marzipan, I chose to use a single colour for the piping – purple, as it would go nicely with both. They would look lovely, though, with a combination of two or three complimentary colours if you really wanted to take it even further
- Using a fine circular nozzle, start from the top centre of one of the cakes and draw out a line of piping slowly and slightly away from the cake
To get as straight a line as possible, you need to not pipe directly on to the marzipan but pull the icing out and over the cake in one continuous stream and let it fall down one side to the bottom – almost as if you were using a piece of string – like in fig 1.
- Once you have one line done, start from the top again and pipe three more lines in turn, making a cross over the cake (effectively marking the cake into quarter pieces)
Eventually you need to have twelve lines piped equally spaced apart around the cake – making those first four quarters just makes it more easy to do it evenly. I’d suggest you do it in order as in Fig 2, but however you think best to get twelve lines
- Repeat for all twelve cakes
- Use a large palette knife slid under each cake to move them, if you need to while the icing dries
- If you are using a decorative topper, such as pink pralines or modelled roses, Cheshire Cats and top hats, pipe a small blob of the royal icing in the middle at the top of the cake and push the topper gently into it